‘It’s hard to keep fighting every battle’
Irish Lives: Alicia Liebenberg tells how special education cuts will affect her son Finn
Alicia Liebenberg, her husband Karel, and their son Finn, who has cerebral palsy. “It’s hard for parents like me to keep fighting every battle,” said Ms Liebenberg. Photograph: Dave Meehan
Finn Liebenberg is a student at Holywell Educate Together School in Swords. For the seven-year-old who has quadriplegic cerebral palsy and is non-verbal, joining this mainstream school two years ago has been transformative.
“He had been in junior infants in the Central Remedial Clinic but we found the curriculum wasn’t what he needed,” says his mother Alicia. She says while Finn is unable to do a lot physically, he is mentally very astute. Having fought hard to get him into mainstream education, she says the move has changed his life.
“I could easily have said he could just go to a school where he would be happy, but his educational needs wouldn’t be fully met. He’d probably then go into State care when he was older and he’d never be able to get a job,” she says. “But I want better things for my son. If he can go to a mainstream school, he can learn so that he can get a job in the future. He needs to be able to aspire to things, and the only way he can do that is with the help of people like resource teachers.”
Maximise his potential
A resource teacher is helping Finn to maximise his potential. “He’s getting the full curriculum now, he’s being included in all aspects of learning. Although academically he’s really good, he still needs those extra hours just to make sure he is on the right track.”
But with a 10 per cent cut to support hours for children with special educational needs, Finn’s progression into first class in September won’t be easy. “His resource hours will be cut which means they might not have a full-time resource teacher at his school anymore,” says Alicia.
She says an in-school resource teacher who is around a child all the time is more likely to be attuned to their needs. When Finn had difficulty with some specific concepts in maths, it was his resource teacher who sorted it out.
“It took his resource teacher to flag it and bring in an educational psychologist… you need someone who is there full time, who is able to get to know the child and figure out why that child is not doing as well as you know they can do.
“If you don’t have somebody that’s full-time at the school and dedicated to those children, then they are lost. Those are the kids that fall through the cracks.
“It’s easy to say on a piece of paper that we are cutting resource hours across the board, it’s not going to affect anybody,” says Alicia.
“But it’s not just a few kids that have a little problem with learning, it’s a lot of kids that really rely on resource teachers to enable them to stay in mainstream and to stay up to date with their work and get a proper education. It’s an awful lot more serious than people think.”
Finn’s resource teacher is also the liaison point for other supports like educational psychologists or speech therapists and needs to be at school when they visit Finn. With resource hours cut, the synchronisation of these visits becomes problematic.
“It’s just another fight I’ll have to have every week to make sure that there is a resource teacher in when they need to visit.”
Alicia is angry. “I just think that it’s always the easy target. It’s hard for parents like me to keep fighting every battle. This is just another thing they hit you with and you are supposed to roll over and say, ‘oh well it’s austerity, they don’t have the money’, but there is money being spent on the most stupid things. It doesn’t cost that much to keep a resource teacher in a school.”